Monday, 28 April 2008

Weem Team

At last, the promise of a sunny day, and on a weekend! Bong, Sarah and I headed to Weem for some spring sport climbing. The last time I was at Weem various routes were sopping wet and everything was very green and overgrown. This is what I blame for my dragging the others up steep paths and the long way round to the bottom of the crag. Oops. Sorry guys.

Anyway, we found it, and the sun was lovely and warm on it. We legged it up a 6a called, I can't remember, but it was certainly easier than the last time I did it. I was intrigued to know whether 4 months of full time climbing had improved my strength or technique at all, so we made some attempts at the Lama Parlour, a 6c that we had attempted on a top rope last summer. I think on balance it was more attainable this time than last, although I won't pretend that it was still pretty hard! I've no excuses for not doing this, other than I was a big chicken. I've spent too long bouldering, and just bottled out of taking the falls. It was good to have a shot at it and remind myself where the holds were, what they were like and what the sequence should be. I'm not entirely convinced I'll remember them for next time, but I'll try :-)

Sarah top roping the Lama Parlour 6c

As if 6c wasn't hard enough, Sarah persuaded us to try The End of Silence, 7b. Ahem, yes, 7b. It was hard. I'm sure the last 7b I did wasn't as hard as that, but then I'm also sure that memory fades things into being easier than they actually were. Sarah went up it bolt-to-bolt and Bong and I made some valiant but unsuccessful attempts at toproping it cleanly.

One genuine problem we encountered was the cold. It might have been a sunny day, but the air temperature was probably only around 9 degrees. So once the sun had moved round and was no longer on the crag, it was pretty chilly. Therefore, belaying or waiting meant a fairly significant chill-down, even with duvet jackets and hats. It's amazing how much harder any climbing feels when you're cold. However, it's still only April, and the leaves are not yet on the trees, so the sunshine is somewhat deceptive. Apparently the air temperature was down to 6 degrees by the time we left.

Sarah invented some fantastic moves: toe-hooks, heel hooks, foot swapping, crimping, thumb spragging (bet you didn't know that one, huh?!).... idiot that I am, I forgot to take my camera, so I'm sorry these pictures aren't very clear.

It was 10pm before we got home, but while Sarah was studying in the back seat, Bong was driving, I was mentally working through the moves in a desperate bid to remember them. It's a nice little project for the summer I think. A bit more effort and a bit of bravery in taking some falls, and it might go.....

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Font Revisited

It has taken us 6 months to return to where we started out Great Expedition last September: Fontainbleau. So much has happened in between, it was a strange feeling being back there, this time with Caroline's car rather than mine, and staying indoors rather than in a tent. So many things were different and yet so many things seemed the same. We only spent three and a half weeks here last September, but everything seemed very familiar, as though we'd been there much longer and had never really gone away.

In spite of the frustrations we had of our last trip to Fontainbleau, we realised that we both have some very happy and very funny memories of our novice attempts at various problems here. Font is an unusual place in terms of climbing style and technique. It took us the full duration of our previous stay to get to grips with it, and I think it wasn't until our last few days here in mid-October that things finally started to click. This time, however, having spent a day getting used to both new shoes and old rock, things came together much more quickly. I managed to finish a few things that defeated me last time and try some new harder things with a degree of success I hadn't anticipated. But then the weather started to interfere....

Finishing the blue no. 9 - supposed 3c - at Apremont. It might be 5c instead...certainly the colder conditions this time helped in holding the top sloper.

While Rob, Sarah, Iain and Caroline had spent a week in the forest with some fairly reasonable weather, I had been talking my way through 4 days' training in Liverpool. Exhausting. With a 12-hour turnaround in returning home from Liverpool and heading off to France, I was almost (but only almost) glad of a rainy excuse not to climb on the Sunday. I was shattered, and probably couldn't have climbed anything anyway. So we wandered around the forest in Apremont and returned to some of the problems we did last year. I was quite astounded by how much I managed to remember, particularly in finding my way between the boulders. We paid a quick visit to Bas Cuvier too, and Caroline demonstrated her frustration at not being able to climb in the rain by hugging this huge blob.

Monday was thankfully bright and sunny, although still remarkably cold. We trotted off to Cul de Chien, since I was desperate to see that inland beach again. Although we had been to Cul de Chien a number of times, we had climbed very little there. As good practice for me in new shoes, we opted for the blue circuit, starting at problem number 1. By the time we reached problem 17 and had done all the variations in between, we quit. A good day, with plenty of skin left, and a timely Font reminder of one's humility. The guys who developed these circuits deserve respect for their stamina alone!

Caroline on Blue 8b at Cul de Chien - probably responsible for her now (apparently) busted intercostal muscle

It went from 20 degrees the previous Friday, to 4.5 degrees on the Tuesday. And it snowed. I got up at silly o'clock, saw everything white and went back to bed. But as apparently is the wont of Font weather, the sun came out, the snow melted and all the rocks dried out in time for us to do some climbing! Now why isn't Scotland like that?

I don't know why we decided to head to Franchard Cuisinere on possibly the coldest day of our trip, but we did. I remembered a slightly overhanging traverse that I had wanted to try, but we didn't have mats with us at the time. We spent a couple of hours trying to find the right sequence for this brutal traverse, with no real guide as to which way it went, which holds were in or out, what grade it was. Most of our trouble came from trying to stay warm. It was bitterly cold, especially in the wind. Cuisinere is on the top of a hill and so, I suppose, catches any wind there is to catch. We only managed to get half way on the traverse, before giving up and practising our x-wing flying between the boulders. Well, it was a good way to keep warm, and we only felt stupid if there were other people around, which there weren't. So we actually had a lot of silly fun!!

Caroline on the Cuisinere traverse. It's boulder 37 if you have the purple Fontainbleau Climbs book by Montchausse and Godoffe. I have since found this problem on the site here. We were attempting the red route , marked 7a+, from right to left.


Finding the traverse reachy and very powerful, I wasn't sure I was ever going to get any further than this..... My leg just wasn't long enough to reach the foothold at the bottom, and I just couldn't hold on any longer. Amazing how easy it looks in the video, but all I remember when I watch this is just how hard it was!! So we trekked over to Isatis in the afternoon and just in an attempt to keep warm rather than try lots of hard stuff, we made up some epic traverses. They kept us moving, kept us warm, and kept us entertained. Eventually, pumped and hungry, we headed home.

Bad weather led to much silliness. We don't remember ever being bored when we were last here. But this time, boredom appeared to breed some very irrational behaviour. We drank a lot of tea. Makes you strong ;-) We fed the chickens. We went shopping. The label off my new shoes reads: "You should be satisfied with these shoes and we hope you will make good use of them." Lost in translation..... And don't even ask about the sporks.

We also went back to Gorge aux Chats and Bas Cuvier. An attempt to squeeze in a shot on la marie rose was futile, given the crowd of young British hooligans who were clearly there for the duration. Numerous attempts on it led to a volley of abuse being hurled in all directions and some childish kicking of rocks by said Brits. We watched, less than impressed, whereupon a very nice Bleausard whom we had watched effortlessly padding up a 7a slab, tapped me on the shoulder and beckoned us over. He led us to another higher, blanker slab, and said "Zees is much more beautiful than la marie rose. You try. I show you." So we watched, again, agog, as this (almost) elderly gentleman balanced his way to the top of the blankness. Caroline and I both had a shot, and were making good progress until Caroline's fingers gave up. First one, then the other, forefinger split.

I have never seen her little face look so disappointed. Our friendly Bleausard suggested that this slab, known as La Forge, was 6a/b. Caroline looked it up when we got home, and it's listed on the website as 6c or 7a for the more direct finish (which we didn't do). The tiny edges were indeed very sharp, and I think that this is what really took the skin off my fingers too. They didn't split, but were very sore for the rest of the week.

Tiny crimps on La Forge

At Gorge aux Chats we tried something completely different; another slightly overhanging traverse with some long reaches in it. Again, we couldn't finish it. I got as far as slapping wildly for the final hold, but couldn't hold it as well as keep my heel on. Ah well, obviously not one for short weak people like me! Caroline found it hard to keep her toe on. It seems that the wonderful Anasazis are not good for toe-hooking. Shame, since this one was ok for split fingertips...just.

All the while, Rob, Sarah and Iain were chasing 7's and 8's all around the forest. Rob came home one evening saying he'd done 9 7a's that day. Iain was dead chuffed with his hat trick of 7's at Gorge aux Chats, having valiantly fought the lurgey for much of the holiday. Sarah did so much all week I couldn't follow it all, but judging by how exhausted she looked by Friday night, she hadn't given up on anything in a hurry!

The final triumph was Caroline's steady and solid ascent of Science Friction, the infamous sandbag slab at Apremont. Having packed the car and prepared mentally for a long drive home, she decided that her fingers were just about healed enough to attempt a slab. Maybe 4 or 5 attempts later there was a tentative reach and slap for the top edge and a whoop of delight. I wish I'd had my camera out at the time. She looked so solid on it. Officially it's graded a 5 something, on the premis that the holds have been chipped at some point. Maybe they have, maybe they haven't. Either way they are impossibly small. They are also polished after 50 years of scrabbling feet, and are on a crazily steep gradient. I have heard it's more like 6b than 5a. Anyone any views to offer on this one?

Impossibly small holds on Science Friction, Apremont

Friday, 4 April 2008

Day Tripper

I've spent some time in Liverpool this week, which has been interesting if work-orientated. As is my wont in strange cities, I had a ticket to ride and went hunting for the local climbing wall. Awesome Walls in Liverpool was just that, if one could ever describe a climbing wall as awesome. There was certainly a lot of it; acres of wall covered in the usual coloured blobs and chips. One thing I am never concerned about when visiting unfamiliar walls is being faced with unfriendly or unwelcoming staff. Liverpool must be one of the most friendly and familiar cities I have visited. Everyone wants to say hello, chat, tell you about good things to do and see in their fabulous city, although nobody seems to know where anything is or how to get antwhere. Even the bus stops don't give any clue as to which buses stop there.

Anyway, I digress. Nev, the friendly face of Awesome Walls, showed me around and then landed his pal Charlie with me for some bouldering. I had a fantastic couple of hours trying really hard on steep problems, albeit with with some trepidation. It's amazing how you get used to the set up at your local wall. I am accustomed to the space (yes, I said space) and height at Alien Rock 2. Awesome Walls has some bouldering located in the crypt and in the galleries of a former church. This means that while the wall is steep, it isn't very high, and if you fly backwards off the top of it, you are liable to hit the wall immediately behind you. This makes for somewhat timid dynos (if I were to ever dyno anything, that is) and in fact a reluctance to climb too high up the wall in the first place. It's a very strange feeling that one is subconciously holding back.

I was also surprised to see that the landing areas for some of the vertical walls (which weren't insignificantly high) were not covered with thick matting. Having once fallen off an overhanging blobs problem at an Alien Rock fun comp, landing coccyx first on the thinner mats and paying a late night visit to A&E, maybe I am unusually nervous about landings. My concern on this occasion was, bizarrely, for my ankles. I have no idea where that fear came from.... Maybe from tottering around in high heels this week, which probably did more damage than any landing.

My other observation about Awesome Walls was that the walls were very shiny! No smearing here! No "features for feet" problems, no sneaking padding up walls because holds were too far away. This made some of the problems pretty reachy for someone of my (slightly) diminutive stature. Following a conversation with Charlie about the transition between climbing indoors and then outdoors, I realised that the "sticky" indoor walls and the additional features actually offer a huge benefit to those wishing (or preferring) to climb outside, providing a much better environment for learning the techniques one might most usefully employ on real rock. Smearing, tiny footholds, finding your balance in preparation for reaching the next hold....all these things seemed so much harder when the only options were to put feet exactly where the route setter intended them to go. I thought wistfully of Font, again, and sighed.....

Having worn off some skin and exhausted my biceps, I went in search of something outdoors. I couldn't come to Liverpool and not see (the outisde of, at least) the two magnificent cathedrals here. It struck me that both might offer buildering potential....

When we walked up to the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral it was dark and I didn't have my shoes with me, and I thought I might get arrested, never mind not being brave enough to try to scale such a massive monument without any kind of backup plan as a harness and a rope. If I fell....Help! I'd be here, there and everywhere. But it did strike me that both the great west doors and the detailed stonework above it, would provide some interesting climbing.

This is the stonework on the facade above the main door. Nice tufas I thought.

I couldn't work out what these massive doors were made of, but they had plenty of bouldering potential. I'm pretty sure they're sturdy enough not to come off their hinges if one were to undertake a delicate traverse.

Then I found several huge buttresses on the sides of the building. They're like giant ramps leading from the ground to the bottom of the tower, almost a stairway to heaven, perhaps. Huge labs, asking to be tackled. They looked like concrete or stone to start with, but tapping on them made a very hollow sound, as if made of hardboard. My guess is that they were at about 45 degrees so in theory eminently climbable by aficienados of the slab. I bet there are some bleausards who would treat it like a walk in the park.

We also took a wander to the Anglican cathedral at the opposite end of Hope Street. [How funny is that? Hope Street with a cathedral at either end....oh the irony!] This seemed to offer fewer buildering possibilities, but I am going to put a picture of it here simply because it is the most enormous building. It's vast. 9,600 square metres, in fact. Well, I suppose it is the second largest Anglican cathedral in Europe. Alarmingly, it also has 31 tonnes of bells hanging in the tower, 219 feet up. Ouch. The highest ringing peal of bells in the world, apparently. Wow. I wouldn't want to be hanging by my fingernails up there at 11am on a Sunday morning!

Is this not a massive building?

We took a ferry 'cross the Mersey; from here is is easier to understand how big the cathedral is. The bond warehouses on the quayside in the foreground are about 6 storeys high, and the hill on which the cathedral sits is not high at all.

Unfortunately, I've missed the Channel 4 programme tonight about the human spider....although naturally I'd much rather be in Font or the County than half way up a skyscraper.